Fat is the flavorful foundation of our cooking. Olive oil, grass fed butter, coconut oil, mayonnaise, egg yolks – these are our favorite ingredients in the kitchen. They bring smooth texture and indulgent flavor to any meal.
Ask a French baker for the secret to a good croissant, he’ll say beurre. An Italian chef will be sure to drizzle extra olio d’oliva on her mozzarella and basil. In Spain, a butcher prefers the fattiest cuts of pastured pork for his jamon ibérico.
Fats are decadent. They also boast significant health benefits. Olive oil is packed with antioxidants, for example; avocado oil has been shown to reduce cholesterol and improve heart health.
Like any ingredient, the best fats are of the highest quality. Here’s how to pick the best quality of our three favorite fats:
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Olive oil is one of the oldest sources of fat. The Fertile Crescent around the Mediterranean Sea is home to some of the world’s best olive trees. Inhabitants of modern day Tunisia, Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, and Syria have been pressing olive oil as a staple of their cuisine for thousands of years.
In its cleanest form, extra virgin olive oil is full of a unique fat called oleic acid, known for a variety of health benefits like reducing blood pressure and burning fat. It also offers a huge antioxidant dose.
How to choose the best oil? The question is harder than you may think. Most “extra virgin” olive oil in stores today is actually a blend of different vegetable oils.
A few pieces of advice:
- Avoid cheap oils. Good quality olive oil is relatively expensive. If a bottle is $10 or less, it’s likely rancid or a blend.
- Seek certified bottles. The olive oil industry is quite unregulated, so misleading marketing claims are common. Find bottles with certifications; two popular ones are “PDO” or “PGI” for Italian oils.
- Find detailed labels. Be wary of vague phrases like “made in Italy.” Italy is the top importer of olive oil in the world. Most EVOO originates from Greece, Spain, and North Africa, so try to find the name of a precise point of production (like a mill).
Grass Fed Butter + Ghee
Butter and ghee are luxurious fats. The ancient cultures of Asia, Africa, and Europe considered butter a luxury item. For a time, it was the base of body lotions as well as culinary specialities.
Ghee was a useful discovery, too. Simmer butter until the milk solids sink, and you’re left with a layer of butter oil that keeps for months at room temperature.
Both butter and ghee are very nutrient dense, containing robust levels of vitamins K2, A, and D. They’re also one of the richest sources of a potent anti-inflammatory compound called butyric acid.
Finding the best quality butter and ghee will get you all the health benefits and a deep, rich flavor. Use these tips:
- Go grass fed. Butter producing animals (cow, goat, sheep, buffalo) are either free to roam on pasture or forced to consume commercial feed. Find the first. It’ll be healthier and taste much better.
- Look for yellow. Butters come in many colors, from pale white to deep yellow. Color is a measure of nutrition and taste: the more yellow, the better. By the way, the same applies for egg yolks.
- Favor imported brands. Butters from France, Switzerland, and New Zealand tend to be higher quality. It’s the result of stricter standards around animal care.
Coconuts originate from southeast Asia. As humans discovered early on, it’s a useful source of nourishment; you can drink the water from its juice and eat its inner fleshy meat.
It’s no different today. The coconut’s medicinal, culinary, and industrial applications are plenty. In grocery stores, coconuts come in many forms: butter, cream, milk, oil, and whole.
Coconut oil is derived from the fruit’s liquid. It’s mild, creamy taste is a great base for dressings and smoothies. Another great use is a cooking oil.
Coconut oil’s health profile is extensive. It’s rich in lauric acid, giving it strong antifungal and antimicrobial properties. It’s also a dense source of saturated fats, the building blocks of your hormones.
A little guidance on choosing the best:
- Find organic. Companies often use chemicals to maximize oil extraction from the coconut and speed up production. Certified organic oils don’t contain chemical residues.
- Choose unrefined. Some oils are derived from dried coconut meat, which requires an industrial process called RBD (refined, bleached, deodorized). Avoid this; go unrefined.
- Ignore extra virgin. For coconut oil, you can’t get more virgin than virgin; the “extra” is a marketing tactic.